Rock of Ages
Developer: ACE Team
Genre: Tower Defense
Release Dates (XBOX360): August 31, 2011 (EU & NA)
Release Dates (PS3): May 15, 2012 (EU & NA)
Price: 6.75£ (Xbox Live Marketplace) / 9.99$ (PlayStation Store)
Rock of Ages isn't exactly the type of game that you'll become instantly attracted to after the first glance, but looking beyond that and getting to play it will most definitely change your impression. The words that describe this game the best would be somewhere in the area of a tower defense with two ends where your only attack option to help you reach your enemy's gate is your giant boulder, boulder that you control. The story mode puts you and your customizable boulder travelling through time and space, starting with ancient Rome and ending with the Renaissance era, fighting different characters from each time and location such as Leonardo da Vinci, Plato or Napoleon Bonaparte.
There is no real difference between all those battles except for the map where the battle takes place, but the short, humorous animations that introduce the battle are a delight, as they make fun of anything and everything such as the moment when Leonardo da Vinci realizes that kids nowadays play with boulders in a video game created using "computieres". There are plenty of such moments and even though there is no actual plot to tie-in those battles apart from the fact that your boulder is inexplicably rolling from one battle to the next one after you've defeated your previous adversary, you can return to each one of them at any given time in order to collect the remaining hidden keys, improve your scores or simply because you wanted to have a quick laugh at one of those animations one more time. Choosing your character and your boulder is easy and intuitive, having a simple option in the main menu that allows you to select those and apply them to all the modes, including Time Trial and Multiplayer.
Rock of Ages was meant to be a tower defense game at its core, but that isn't the thing that makes it fun to play, as the boulder rolling mechanic will steal the show every single time you play. In theory a winning combination would consist of a valid strategy in tower defense in order to stop your enemy from reaching your gate and good boulder-controlling skills so you can get past your opponent's defences and crash into his gate, but that isn't exactly the case as for most of the times your defences will do nothing, but slow down your enemy's boulder for a bit and unless you're playing against the AI which is dumb enough to get stuck in random places at times, it is almost impossible for a human being to fail getting past any number of defences, so the game becomes more of a speed test, awarding the fast one to roll his boulder into the enemy gate, using the tower defense mechanic only to buy a few extra seconds.
One more thing that influences the gameplay comes in the form of boulder power-ups, which range from the Angel Wings that allow you to perform one double jump to the Sun Upgrade which will deal considerably more damage if you manage to get to the enemy gate with your power-up still intact. After finishing the main story, you will definitely want to play against another human being as the AI's actions are predictable and there's no real challenge in defeating one of the animated characters one more time, and even if you do have all the maps from the story at your disposal in Multiplayer, matchmaking isn't as smooth as it could be, as you can spend entire minutes finding someone to play with and even when you do, it will become boring after a while since the fastest one on a map will always win.
The game is built using the Unreal Engine, which makes it a pretty thing to look at, but even so it is far from realistic and the physics can sometimes be weird, bouncing your boulder into a different direction. The crash effects are decent and the boulder damage, while not the best, does its job showing you what you did to your boulder after smashing it into all those towers. The level design on the other hand, makes things seem legit, as Rome will somehow look as you'd imagine Rome in miniaturistic style where boulders are supposed to roll for some reason.
There is no voice acting, but the sound effects and grunts that the characters make sell the ironic theme of the game and make those short animations fun to watch. The soundtrack might not be the best, but it is certainly fixed to deliver the background ambient that fits the on-screen boulder-rolling in each of the stages, making those levels feel authentic to the period of time and the location where each of those characters belong in real history.
The story can easily be completed within 5 hours, but afterwards you've got plenty of mini-games, reasons to jump back into the action for the missing keys and the Time Trial mode which will keep you busy for a few more hours if you want to achieve the gold medal for each one of the maps. The multiplayer, even with its issues can be a fun experience, especially if you find someone to play with for a longer period of time so you won't have to go through the matchmaking system after each match. Apart from the Online Multiplayer, the game also features a Local Multiplayer component which allows you and a friend to play all the modes in split-screen, ideal for spending an entire night crashing into another friend's towers and trying all sorts of stuff with the tools at your disposal.
Rock of Ages is fun and humours, so if you're looking for something different and with a healthy dose of parody humour, look no further, as this game will keep you busy for hours to come if you're digging its concept and you're willing to look past its flaws. There are limitations, without any doubt, and even with all the content package included in the game there was much more that could have been done, but for what it is, the game can easily keep you and a friend busy for an entire night, doing a bunch of different things and playing with the game's mechanics to try out new stuff.